Steven Gonzalez Monserrate is a postdoctoral researcher at the Fixing Futures Research Training Group at Goethe University. He received his PhD in the History, Anthropology, Science, Technology & Society (HASTS) program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His current book project, Cloud Ecologies, is an environmental ethnography of data centers in New England, Arizona, Puerto Rico, and Singapore. Committed to public engagement and accessible scholarship, his writing and research appears in venues including Wired, Aeon, Popular Science, Anthropology News, ABC News, BBC News, NPR and more. Steven holds an MA in Anthropology from Brandeis University and a BA in Feminist Anthropology from Keene State College. He is also a filmmaker and a speculative fiction writer (under the byline E.G. Condé).

Research Areas

Cloud Ecologies

The Cloud is a sociotechnical system, a meshwork of computing infrastructures and the technicians who maintain them. Since 2015, I have studied data centers ethnographically in New England, Arizona, Iceland, Singapore, and Puerto Rico. My research investigates the rising environmental impacts of data centers (carbon emissions, water footprints, noise pollution, electronic waste) and the wider political, economic, and cultural ecologies in which they occur. Some of the major themes that I write and think about include:

  1. Masculinity & Gender in Tech
  2. Emergent Linguistic Formations
  3. Maintenance as Care Work
  4. Infrastructure & Environment
  5. Sustainability & Waste

“The cloud is as anthropogenic as it is technological, as emotional as it is logical, as physical as it is virtual, and as embodied as it is ethereal.”

– Steven Gonzalez Monserrate, “People of the Cloud”, AEON (2022)

Speculative Fiction as Method

What is the promise of speculative fiction as a method for social theorists and activists? How can scholars apply their critical lenses and research data to the imagination of more just societies?

I attempt to answer some of these questions in my experimental scholarship and creative practices. I have written a short work of speculative fiction called, “Silicon Fox“, based on my ethnographic fieldwork in Icelandic data centers. Inspired by the thermodynamic imaginaries of cloud technicians in New England data centers, I created an ethnographic sculpture using a 3d printer and modeling clay. I also worked collaboratively with a team of scholars to create an experimental speculative film called “World Without Clouds“, with a companion syllabus for classroom instruction.

“In this warming epoch that earth scientists have named the ‘Anthropocene,’ in which climate models anticipate cataclysmic climate futures, speculation is no longer the sole province of fiction writers. The survival of civilization now hinges on our collective capacities to envision and realize a sustainable future.”

– Steven Gonzalez Monserrate, “The Cloud is Material”, MIT SERC Case Studies (2022)

Data Storage Futures from DNA to Optical Ceramics

As a member of the Fixing Futures Research Training Group at Goethe University, I am exploring emerging data storage infrastructures as “technologies of anticipation”. Embedded as an ethnographer within the laboratories, art studios, and the offices of the start-ups developing molecular (synthetic DNA) and 5D optical ceramic (digital cuneiform) storage systems, I explore how alternative data futures are being enacted, articulated, and contested in expert and artistic domains of practice. Pitched as a corrective to our environmentally deleterious and fragile digital ecosystem, these alternatives to silicon-based storage are appearing just as artificial intelligence (AI) intensifies storage and computing demands in the Anthropocene.